CARCASSONNE, FRANCE – Today the group experienced a new and beautiful side of southern France. Imagine large castles, ancient sights, and top it all off with a hand-built winery.
Our Tuesday on the Wabash Alumni trip started with a visit to Carcassonne. The ancient walled city, which has existed since single-digits B.C., is shrouded in history. The lovely tour guide, Amelie, was very captivating in her recount of the formation of the city. Lisa Kolisek, wife of Dr. Frank Kolisek, ’82, recounts that Amelie was “very animated in her stories. It was definitely not a rehearsed speech.”Along the guided tour, many questions about the city’s history were asked, and she had an answer.
A highlight of the tour was a visit to the Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse. The giant church is visible even on the approach to the city. Constructed in the 11th century, the aura of the significance of the building throughout history was almost palpable. Upon entry, we were greeted by the sounds of a Russian Orthodox trio singing holy songs long lost in time. However, they added to the ambiance of the cathedral and held our group along with all others in an awestruck silence. We noticed the stained glass windows from the outside, but their wondrous light was only visible from the inside.
After the tour concluded, a period of free time was allotted for the group. We split up, with half visiting a restaurant within the city called Adelaide, and the other half eating at the Compte de Roger. I attended the latter, and enjoyed a brief lunch of a goat cheese salad with a parfait for dessert, paired with a regional wine seen at the Chateaux Hospitalet we visited yesterday.
The next stop was a winery the group had been looking forward to since we heard their story. O’Vineyards, a small winery outside of Carcassonne, was built in 2005 by an American couple that dropped their lives in Florida and, thanks to the internet, found a plot of land in the Languedoc and started living their dream. Joe and Liz O’Connell were, along with the still-popular Virgile Joly, the best hosts we’ve had in our brief time in France. Their son is associated with Naked Wines in Napa, and met Director of New Media Howard Hewitt who arranged the trip.
Joe, born and raised in Massachusetts, did not hesitate to show us his land and his wine making facility. On the first impression, the place simply looked like a house. But Joe took us to his underground wine processing facility and the cellar room. After a very thorough explanation of his process, beliefs, and practices, the group was noticeably impressed and obviously pleased. We then returned upstairs to be greeted with plates of delicious appetizers – several small plates of food to complement the couples’ array of wine. There was no shortage of questions, jokes, and conversation throughout the entire stop. Much to our bus driver’s dismay, we ended up staying and talking with the owners long past our scheduled time. Finally, it was time to herd everyone on the bus. The talk on the way home did not stray from the wonderful experience, with today’s winery visit being ranked highly by everyone.
Today’s events were a great way to wrap up our experience in the Languedoc – Roussilon region. Tomorrow, we ride the high speed train to Paris. (David Newhart ’14)